Joe Watson was a salt-of-the-earth player who had to work harder than most to earn his spot at the top of the hockey world. He was gifted in no aspects of his game, save his sense of team spirit and his commitment to take the sum of his average parts and raise them into a greater whole.
He played his junior hockey with the Estevan Bruins of the SJHL in 1962-63. The following year, he turned pro in the CHL with the Minneapolis Bruins. Over the two campaigns that followed, he caught a brief tryout with the Boston Bruins between longer outings with Minneapolis and, later, the Oklahoma Blazers.
In 1966-67, Watson's persistence finally earned him a full-time spot as a sixth and seventh defenseman with the gradually strengthening Bruins. But when the Expansion Draft was held at the end of the campaign, the young rearguard was left unprotected. As such, Flyers' GM Bud Poile spotted a solid defensive prospect in young Watson.
In Philly, he found his spiritual centre as a charter member of the Flyers who added stability to his club's new blueline corps. Over the years that followed, he became a defensive workhorse who helped keep his team respectable until their Stanley Cup pieces began to fall into place during the early 1970s.
During those years, Watson became a reliable rearguard who employed a steady positional style of play, highlighted by a daring streak as a fearless shot blocker. He also exhibited a contagiously positive team attitude that won him the favour of his fans. In 1974 and 1975, his foundational contribution to his team came to complete fruition with Stanley Cup victories at the conclusion of both seasons.
Watson continued with the Flyers until 1979. At age 35, he was traded to the youth-riddled Colorado Rockies who where looking to the veteran rearguard to teach their young blueline corps how to play good old-fashioned defense.
Just 16 games into his first campaign, while playing against St. Louis, Watson chased a loose puck near the end of the ice. The Blues' Wayne Babych checked him against the boards, leaving the fallen rearguard with the worst broken leg in NHL history. His thighbone was shattered into 14 pieces and his kneecap was split in two. Watson's career on ice was over. He was lucky to escape with only a permanently disabled leg.